Off Limits

Holy high rollers

The Roman Catholic Church has been rocked in recent months by revelations of sexual misconduct by clergy and the failure of some bishops to react decisively, and the country's faithful have responded in various ways. Some prayed. Some raised holy hell. Others raised cash and tried to elevate consciousness.

Among the latter was Denver millionaire and devout Catholic John Saemen, who decided that a public statement of support would be appropriate. So Saemen, a Bill Daniels cable exec turned founding partner of the Denver investment firm Medallion Enterprises, LLC, asked friends and associates -- some in high places (Bill Owens and his wife, Frances; Representative Bob and Dr. Maureen Schaffer) and some in very high places (beer-bottler Peter Coors and his wife, Marilyn; bond broker Walt Imhoff; Bronco-buster Pat Bowlen and his wife, Annabel) -- to sign a full-page open letter that was published in Sunday's Denver Post. The text was written in a little more than an hour by a Washington, D.C.-based Catholic-magazine columnist at the request of Saemen's assistant, Peter Droege.

"It was nothing short of a miracle," says Droege, who was one of the hundred signatories.

Prior to publication, the statement was submitted to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, leader of the 376,000 Catholics in northern Colorado, as a matter of protocol. Had the prelate -- who made his own public statements on the scandals last month -- objected to the proposed ad, it would have sent a "very substantial signal" to the group, Droege says.

The Post did send a substantial signal to the "Colorado Catholics": a $20,000 bill for the full-page ad. The group had no problem passing the collection plate, however, and backers chipped in about $400 apiece, according to sponsors.

In final form, the missive did mention support for abuse victims and their families and noted that problems should be rooted out. Still, the message that came through most clearly was solidarity with bishops and priests. "The failures of a few, no matter how serious, can not be an excuse for demeaning or suspecting all," the April 7 letter declared.

According to Droege, the ad has gotten a positive response. But not everyone is making a joyful noise. The Reverend Bill Kirton, president of the Interfaith Alliance, says he was bothered by one of the signatures: that of Bill Owens, who happens to be the governor of Colorado. "It seems like the politicization of religion," Kirton observes. "Bill Owens has been very outspoken in his support of government help for sectarian, faith-based purposes." Although the Interfaith Alliance is no stranger to politics -- the group is once again fighting an uphill battle to gain passage of a revised anti-bias bill similar to one that conservative lawmakers shot down in past years -- Kirton feels that this statement of Catholic support is part of a larger pattern of conservatives in various denominations trying to influence public policy.

According to Dan Hopkins, the governor's spokesman, Owens signed the statement as a private citizen and wasn't attempting to link his office with the cause. And was Owens's office paying Hopkins's salary while he was speaking about the governor's activities as a "private citizen"?

God only knows.

Can you dig it? First came the attempt to break the Guinness World Record for crowd noise, during an October 1, 2000, football game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots at the old Mile High Stadium. (Denver was successful, by the way: We're Number One!) Then there was the effort to capture Guinness recognition for the most people to watch an outdoor movie, during a showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at Red Rocks on July 10, 2001. (The city has submitted documentation attesting to its success that evening, according to Erik Dyce of the Denver Division of Theatres and Arenas, but it may take several years before Guinness bestows the honor.)

Now the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau will try to break the Guinness record for the largest groundbreaking celebration in history -- the current record of 800 people is held by an Ace Hardware in Loxley, Alabama -- when it arms more than 800 people with commemorative miniature plastic shovels and lets them loose April 29 at the future site of the expanded Colorado Convention Center.

According to bureau spokesman Rich Grant, the stunt has a purpose: to show the rest of the country that Denver actually will have an expanded convention center. "The problem we've had with this project is that it's been on-again/off-again," he says, explaining that the succession of broken hotel deals tied to the CCC expansion -- Marriott and Hyatt both bailed, and after Mayor Wellington Webb wrested the job from developer Bruce Berger, the ball's now back in the city's court -- hasn't exactly given meeting planners warm and fuzzy feelings about scheduling their conventions here. "To meeting planners who've been following it like a saga, we want them to know that we are definitely breaking ground," Grant adds. "So when we do it, we want to do it with a bang that says we are not only going ahead, but we have the support of the community."

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